The First Sunday of Advent, a liturgical season celebrated in many congregations, was yesterday. During Advent, Christians anticipate the coming of Christ, not only remembering his birth in Bethlehem, but aware that one day He will come again as King, to rule in peace and justice. But waiting characterizes much of the life of a Christian, for we find ourselves waiting each day for the signs of incarnation in us, for the quickening of that same spirit which overshadowed the young Jewess we know as Mary.
Waiting has its challenges. It is hard when you know what you are waiting for - a graduation, a wedding, a visit from friends or a long-expected vacation. But it is even more difficult when you don't know exactly what is in the future, only that things aren't now what they will be. For the past seven years, I've felt like that's been my story, as I've entered this period of life, waiting for something to emerge, waiting to become someone whom I don't yet know, and yet a person who will be more authentically me than I've ever been before.
In "The Heart Aroused," David Whyte quotes a poem by Rilke in which he describes his life as a rest between two notes. Here is a portion of the poem:
I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because death's note wants to climb over-
but in the dark interval, reconciled,
they stay there trembling.
And the song goes on, beautiful. (trans Robert Bly)
Rilke sees the note before and the note to come as discordant, and in that uncomfortable clash exists a real danger that he will be overrun by death. Perhaps Rilke is not speaking so much of a physical death here, as the despair or depression that comes when one feels "out of tune", unaligned, fragmented. We feel that we have entered a dark night of the soul, and don't know what to do, or how to bring our lives back into harmony.
The tension of these dark times can be frightening, or paralyzing. But they offer us a challenge, an opportunity to go deeper, to reach a different level of integration. Donald Epstein has written on this in his book, "The 12 Stages of Healing." In Stage 8 he describes coming to the place of emptiness.
"Many people believe that emptiness is a lifeless void of nothingness that leads to emotional or mental paralysis. However, emptiness, when timed correctly in the healing process, leads to freedom...It serves as the space of transition..."
The season of Advent is a season of waiting. It is a season of transition, of darkness, of longing for what is not yet here. But we need not be fearful. Instead we can learn how to breathe during these periods of our lives, to wait with patience and hope. As we approach these "advents" with expectancy, aware that something is forming deep in a mysterious womb, we can rest, knowing that, in the fullness of time, God's handiwork will be revealed. And the song will go on, beautiful.